Southwest Florida emergency officials to begin planning for possible evacuations and shelter openings today as weather patterns converge to push Hurricane Wilma toward the southern Gulf of Mexico.
The Lee County Commission declared a seven-day state of local emergency Tuesday because the county was in the storm's five-day cone of uncertainty. The decision allows county staff to spend extra money to prepare for the storm.
Members of the Collier County Commission are expected to discuss taking similar action Thursday.
Current models predict Wilma will threaten the coast by Saturday afternoon, possibly as a major hurricane packing winds higher than 110 mph, forecasters said.
Typically, experts said, storms will continue across the Gulf of Mexico. But a cold front traveling southwest toward the region will collide with Wilma, they believe, forcing it to turn northeast.
"Just about all of our models are showing a northeast motion toward peninsular Florida," said Stacy Stewart, a hurricane specialist with the National Hurricane Center.
Computer models predicted the storm will hit the lower third of the state.
"As (storms) get picked up they shift northeast and flow up along the cold front," said Ryan Sharp, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service's Ruskin office. "We're fairly confident there will be a turn to the northeast; it's just a matter of when the turn occurs," reports the News-Press
Wilma was already blamed for one death in Jamaica as a tropical depression on Sunday.
"It does look like it poses a significant threat to Florida by the weekend. Of course, these are four- and five-day forecasts, so things can change," said Dan Brown, a meteorologist at the U.S. National Hurricane Center.
Wilma is the record-tying 12th hurricane of the season, the same number reached in 1969; 12 is the most in one season since record-keeping began in 1851.
On Monday, Wilma became the Atlantic hurricane season's 21st named storm, tying the record set in 1933 and exhausting the list of names for this year.
The deadly season has already witnessed the devastation of Katrina and Rita in the past two months, which killed more than 1,200 people and caused billions of dollars in damage.
Honduras and its neighbors already are recovering from flooding and mudslides caused earlier this month from storms related to Hurricane Stan. At least 796 people were killed, most of them in Guatemala, with many more still missing, informs the AP.